catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 21 :: 2013.11.15 — 2013.11.28


Saying “no” as a filmmaker

I am a student filmmaker, currently taking classes in Los Angeles for the fall semester before I return to Calvin College and graduate. For the past four years, I’ve thought a lot about what kind of films I want to make. I’ve encountered so many teachers, mentors, artists, films, books and songs that have shaped my ideas on how I want to portray the world through film. I’m starting to develop a specific vision on what I want to make.

One of the classes I am taking in Los Angeles is about the life of the Christian artist and because of this, I’ve really thought about what it means to be an artist. I think an important part of being an artist is what he or she says “no” to. With lighting, removing light from a scene is just as important as adding light. With editing, an action not shown can be more powerful than showing it. One filmmaker, Lars Von Trier, created a list of rules for filmmaking. Summed up, the rules stated that a film must have as little artificiality as possible.

However, saying “no” affects more than craft. Artists respond to culture. They highlight good and denounce evil. They question whether there is good or evil. They set up fences, test other fences, and then tear down more fences. They say “no” to passively consuming culture.

So as I think ahead to the films that I want to make, I wonder what I will refuse or reject. Being in Los Angeles, I’ve had a lot of close contact with Hollywood. The city has established an efficient and quite successful system of production: classic three-act narratives with huge special effects and big-name actors that sell for millions of dollars. Because of its success Hollywood has become much more than a place; it’s a style.

It’s amazing how much of a force Hollywood and the Hollywood style have become. As I think about the films I want to make, I realize that I have to respond to Hollywood eventually. Will I work in Hollywood to churn out more big-budget films? Or will I find my own way?

I want to make films that try to capture the sacramental in the everyday: morning light shining on a glass of milk; the sounds of kids playing in the park; the soft glow of a streetlamp on a friend’s face. I want to tell stories of people encountering the divine through these sacramental moments.

As it is probably clear by now, I’ve decided I won’t work in Hollywood. I don’t agree with the style of Hollywood or its aesthetics. I don’t think we need more attractive male protagonists saving helpless women, and I don’t think we need more films that don’t question superfluous violence. I want to make films that resist Hollywood.

One of my classes is about screenwriting. My professor, Kris Young, often repeats that I must make my protagonist “holy” in a literal sense. “Holy” means “to be set apart.” I must make my protagonist stand out somehow, from the rest. I must set him apart. The same idea applies to the films I want to make. I want them to be “set apart” from Hollywood.

It is frightening and challenging to make this decision. I’m saying “no” to what most filmmakers desire. I’m saying “no” to a clearly defined path and venturing out into the unknown. Honestly, I’m scared, but what gives me peace is the knowledge that my voice will be clear, at least to me. I don’t mean this in a triumphant, self-centered way. I just mean that I will say what I think I should say, instead of feeling guilty for saying things that someone else made me say. There’s a chance for dialogue in the former, and not much in the latter. I can reveal the sacramental, instead of revealing more explosions. That’s why I say “no” to Hollywood.

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